An Essay by Lauren Kindle
“After all, the goal is not making art. It is living a life…Art is a result.”
--Robert Henri, The Art Spirit
When school ended for my kids back in early June, I had a lot of expectations about how I was going to maintain my painting practice during the summer vacation. Although I did manage to paint a decent amount, it was nowhere near what I had planned. Our family was constantly going places: camping, the beach, visiting loved ones, etc. It was fun, but also chaotic and exhausting. When I did manage to sneak off for a few hours of painting, here and there, I felt guilty afterwards, and worried that I came across as anti-social or selfish. More frequently, though, I found I was too worn out, mentally and physically, to set up my easel, even when the opportunity presented itself.
We can have such high expectations of how things should be. Then, when those things don’t happen, we feel guilty. Or maybe they do happen, and then we feel guilty anyway. For me, motherhood is like continually living in this state of friction, where expectations collide with reality all day long.
My advice to other artist-parents on vacation is: Let go of expectations and embrace your sketchbook! Vacations are ideal for sketching! You can bring a sketchbook anywhere; I have a small sketchbook that fits in my handbag, and an old altoid tin that contains a bit of an eraser, a pencil stub (4B is my absolute favorite pencil,) and a little metal sharpener, and that’s all I need. The stakes are low, because it’s only paper! There’s no set-up, or clean-up; sketching is the height of elegant simplicity. Also, sketches can be truly beautiful works of art, just as wonderful as paintings. You can express so much just by changing the pressure of the pencil on the paper, and by the way you move your hand across the page, with sensitivity and awareness.
By using my sketchbook, I was able to connect with the people around me, to sketch the moments I saw: my cousin holding her sleeping baby, my nephew watching me from his stroller, my son eating a melting ice cream cone. I could sketch quickly and freely, and I felt like I was part of It all. And the children loved watching me draw. Sometimes they would ask to draw too, and I would happily share paper and pencil with them. It brought up one of my earliest memories, drawing with my great-grandmother when I was four years old. I clearly remember her sitting at her desk, her long white hair drawn up into a bun, drawing carefully with a pencil. And I was right beside her with my own pencil, feeling happy about drawing, and safe in her loving presence.
Approached in this way, art is a way of communing with others. And after all, isn’t that one of the main purposes of taking a summer vacation anyway? Relationships, love, connection, these are truly the things that matter most in life. When you let go of your ego and your ambitions, and you bend your head reverently towards the blank sketchbook page, as if in prayer, you begin the holy work of being.